If you aren’t familiar with Pokemon… well… I’m honestly not sure how or why you are on this website. Pokemon has been a phenomenon ever since it launched on the Game Boy back in 1998 (in the US). Pikachu even rivals Mickey Mouse as one of the most recognized characters world-wide.

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THANK YOU, JAPAN!

Picross is maybe a less famous name even though the Picross series has actually been going on longer than Pokemon. Picross is a puzzle series that brings a series of puzzles known as nonograms to handheld consoles. Mario Picross came out in 1995 but failed miserably outside of Japan. While it got several sequels, it wasn’t until Picross DS came out in 2007 that the series really picked up traction. It has since had several successful entries worldwide.

Let me take a second to explain nonograms before I go into Pokemon Picross specifically. Nonograms, like the title of this review suggests, are a lot like Minesweeper meets Sudoku. You are given a grid of squares ranging from 10×10 to 20×20 or anything in between. They can really be as big as you want but the bigger they are, the harder they will likely be. Across the left and top sides of this grid are numbers arranged like this:

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Guess who?!

Now the goal of a nonogram is to fill in the correct squares on the grid to create a picture. You do that by following the numbers. The numbers tell you the order and groupings of the filled in squares. For example, the highlighted column in the picture above says that there will be two separate groups of one filled in square each. The highlighted row is saying there will be one highlighted square followed by two separate groups of two highlighted squares. From there, it’s just logic to figure out which squares can and cannot be filled in.

It may sound intimidating but it’s actually pretty simple and Pokemon Picross is a great entry point for these types of puzzles. It would have been really easy for Nintendo to just pump out a Picross game featuring Pokemon pictures but they really went the extra mile for this game. Every picture is a picture of a Pokemon and once you solve that puzzle, you capture that Pokemon. Each Pokemon has an ability that can help you solve more puzzles. These can range from simply filling out squares or they may auto-correct mistakes you make up to a certain number. There are Pokemon spanning every generation and they even have rules regarding using Mega Evolutions from the newest generation. Each puzzle has optional missions too that give you in-game currency for completing them and mural pieces which add up to getting you two mythical Pokemon.

I’m a long-since lapsed Pokemon fan myself but I found myself instantly sucked back into the allure of capturing all the different monsters. The best part of Pokemon Picross for newbies though is that it’s actually free-to-play. Err- free-to-start, anyway. See, Pokemon Picross has it’s own take on free-to-play games. It has an in-game currency known as Picrites that you get for completing the optional missions. Pretty much everything in the game costs Picrites to unlock. Each new area costs an ever growing amount of Picrites, opening up the ability to Mega-Evolve costs Picrites, opening up slots to equip Pokemon costs Picrites… you get the idea. In most games, it would actually come across as incredibly greedy but they have an answer to that. Once you buy enough Picrites (the equivalent cost of any of their other Picross games), you can get unlimited currency for the rest of your game.

Because of this, the game actually just felt to me like an incredibly well fleshed out demo than a free-to-play game. On top of that, you can pay the price in pieces so that you can keep playing as long as you want and stop when/if you get bored. For me, it actually encouraged me to go back and do the optional challenges for more Picrites without ever feeling like the game was gouging me. For those simply unsure if they like this type of game, you get more than enough of a chance to try Pokemon Picross for free before it feels like you need to start paying up. Slap on a really helpful tutorial that shows you the ropes of nonograms very well and a very addicting collect ’em all system and you’ve got yourself a really wonderful addition to the 3DS.

If you’re like me and watched Picross games from afar without wanting to pay 30 bucks to see if you liked them or not, Pokemon Picross is your starting place. I have been obsessed with the game since I started about a week ago and still have a long way to go before I’ve cleared out all the puzzles they have on offer. I have also paid the full 30 dollars for the game and even if I were to stop playing right now, I wouldn’t regret it for a second.